Gezer, or Tel Gezer, was a city in the foothills of the Judean mountains, approximately midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Today, the ruins of the city are listed as a national park, however, in the Bible, it was mostly associated with King Solomon.
In the Book of Joshua, Gezer is listed as one of the 48 Levitical cities. Previously, Joshua had defeated the king of Gezer but the Canaanite people were still allowed to live there: “They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labour.” (Joshua 16:10) In Joshua 21, the city of Gezer as well as Shechem, Kibzaim and Beth Horon were given to the Kohathite clans of the Levites. Being approximately thirty kilometres northwest of Jerusalem and on the junction of the Via Maris, Gezer would have been an important city on the ancient trade route.
The location of Gezer has been easy for archaeologists to find due to inscriptions in both Hebrew and Aramaic on rocks in the area. The inscriptions read “boundary of Gezer” and have been dated to the 1stcentury BC. Large caves in the area, however, suggest the land had been inhabited since the 4thmillennium BC. These people would have lived in the caves but by the early Bronze Age, they had built more substantial dwellings. This, however, was destroyed some time in the 3rdmillennium BC and was abandoned for a few centuries.
By 1600 BC, the Canaanites were living in Gezer and had constructed a fortified wall with towers to protect the city. The oldest mention of the city can be found in inscriptions about the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III who ruled between 1479 and 1425. During his campaign, a fire destroyed the city of Gezer and the city was rebuilt. Walls four metres in thickness surrounded the new city, which included a palace.
Gezer is mentioned in the First Book of Chronicles as the end of the path King David took when slaying the Philistine army. “So David did as God commanded him, and they struck down the Philistine army, all the way from Gibeon to Gezer.” (1 Chronicles 14:16) Later, “war broke out with the Philistines, at Gezer,” (20:4) which sparked a few battles, all of which David and his army won.
It is around the 10thcentury BC that King Solomon became involved with the city of Gezer. Known as the “Sack of Gezer” an unnamed Egyptian pharaoh “had attacked and captured Gezer. He had set it on fire. He killed its Canaanite inhabitants and then gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter, Solomon’s wife.” (1 Kings 9:16) After this, Solomon rebuilt the city but there is no Biblical record about the future of Gezer.
Due to the ambiguity of dates, it is not possible to determine which Egyptian king ruled concurrently with David and Solomon. Some suggest it may have been Shoshenq I, who ruled from 943 to 922 BC, however, others put forward Siamun (986-967 BC). Since no evidence of either of these suggestions has come to light, the unnamed Egyptian pharaoh remains anonymous.
The Assyrians may have captured Gezer in the 8thcentury BC and by the Hellenistic Period (323-31 BC) the city was inhabited by the Maccabees and led by the Hasmonean dynasty. During Roman rule, the population of Gezer dwindled considerably and it is not certain when it was abandoned altogether. During the Crusades, the land surrounding Gezer was used for the site of the 1177 Battle of Montgisard, during which the forces of the Muslim leader Saladin were defeated.
Since the early 1900s, Gezer has become one of the most excavated sites in Israel. Amongst the items found on the site are skeletons of people killed in the 13thcentury BC and amulets bearing the royal monikers of Thutmose III and Ramses II (reigned 1279-1213). Many stones bearing inscriptions have also been discovered, such as the boundary stones mentioned above. The most fascinating discovery has been the “Gezer calendar”. This is a small limestone tablet written in either Phoenician or paleo-Hebrew script that describes the monthly periods of the year, including harvest, planting and tending crops. The tablet could have been the work of Abijah, the son of Rehoboam who is mentioned in 1 Kings 14:31.
Despite looking rather desolate, Tel Gezer Nature Reserve is free to visit and can be particularly beautiful during the spring when the poppies and lilacs are in full bloom.
Shiloh was a city in the same region as Shechem, which I have previously written about, therefore, it was once a Canaanite city before belonging to the Israelites, then the area belonged to the Samaritans, and was finally taken over by the Romans during the first century AD. Like Shechem, Shiloh was eventually destroyed and it is believed to have existed where Khirbet Seilun (Hebr. Tel Shiloh) is today. This is a “tell” or artificial mound that has formed from centuries of human refuse.
Judges 21:19 gives us the general whereabouts of the city of Shiloh: “But look, there is the annual festival of the Lord in Shiloh, which lies north of Bethel, east of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.” Long before the Israelites arrived in Shiloh, it was a walled city with a religious shrine used by the Canaanites. When the Israelites took over the land, they set up their shrine: the tabernacle. “The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there.”
God had promised land to each of the tribes of Israel; however, by the time they had reached Shiloh, seven tribes had not yet received their inheritance. To help the tribes find their land, Joshua assembled the Israelites in Shiloh and sent three men from each tribe to survey the surrounding lands. On their return, “Joshua then cast lots for them in Shiloh in the presence of the Lord, and there he distributed the land to the Israelites according to their tribal divisions.” (Joshua 18:10)
After the land of the tribes had been distributed, the Levites came to Joshua in Shiloh saying: “The Lord commanded through Moses that you give us towns to live in, with pasturelands for our livestock.” Throughout Joshua 21, the Levites were given the towns they had been promised. As a result of these events occurring at Shiloh, the city became an important location for the Israelites and, according to Jewish sources, the tabernacle remained there for 369 years. Israelites from all the tribes went on pilgrimages to Shiloh where they partook in major feasts and sacrifices to the Lord. On one occasion, when the Benjamites needed wives, they were instructed to “Go and hide in the vineyards and watch. When the young women of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, rush from the vineyards and each of you seize one of them to be your wife. Then return to the land of Benjamin.” Judges 21:20-21)
One of the regular attendees at annual festivals in Shiloh was Elkanah, the husband of Hannah and Peninnah. The latter had children, however, Hannah was barren. It was here in Shiloh where Hannah, weeping, was found by the Priest Eli who told her that God would grant her wish for a child.
One of the famous stories about Samuel as a boy is when the Lord calls for Samuel, however, mistaking the voice for Eli’s, Samuel rushes to see what the High Priest wanted of him. Eventually, Samuel understood who was calling him and “The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” (1 Samuel 3:21)
At the same time, Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas were treating offerings to the Lord with contempt. They took some of the meat people had brought to the shrine for themselves and slept with the women who guarded the entrance to the tent. As a result, they were both killed. It is also thought this resulted in the loss of the Tabernacle at Shiloh when the Israelites were attacked by the Philistines. Some suggest the city was also destroyed at this time.
By the time the Book of Jeremiah was written, it had been over 300 years since the destruction of Shiloh. Jeremiah used the fate of this city to warn the people of Judah and Jerusalem what God could do to them if they did not change their ways.
After the destruction of Shiloh, pilgrimages to the city stopped and the original site became lost. Since 1922, excavations have taken place that has gradually unearthed the city of Shiloh. A man named Aage Schmidt made the initial discovery and further investigations by a Danish team of archaeologists uncovered more of the area. Israel Finkelstein (b.1949) conducted the most extensive excavations in the 1980s and determined that Shiloh had been abandoned in around 1050 BC.
Today, the ancient city of Shiloh can be visited by tourists, schools and groups, plus can also be used as the location of many Jewish ceremonies. A Tabernacle experience allows visitors to see what the area may have looked like through the aid of 3D glasses.
Just for fun, visit this website for a virtual tour of the remains of the city of Shiloh. https://vt.panovision.co.il/shiloh/shiloh_vt.htm
The purpose of this series, Towns and Cities in the Bible, is to discover the-lesser known locations mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. Places such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho and Nazareth are well-known names, however, there are plenty more that are less common or even non-existent in the contemporary world. The first of these cities I am looking at is Shechem, which was first mentioned in Genesis 12:26: “Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.”
Shechem, sometimes known as Sichem, was the first capital city of the Kingdom of Israel. Before the tribes were formed, Shechem was a Canaanite city and is mentioned on clay tablets dating from 1360 BC. It is believed the city was founded in c.2100 BC and was eventually destroyed in 67 AD. Today, the remains of the city can be found in the Palestinian suburb Balata al-Balad.
According to the Book of Judges, Shechem lay on the road going from Jerusalem to the northern districts. Judges 9:6-7 indicates that it was in the vicinity of Mount Gerizim and Joshua 20:7 described Shechem as being “in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah.” Due to its position, Shechem was likely a commercial city situated in the middle of important trade routes. During the Bronze Age, the city would have dealt in grapes, olives, wheat, livestock and pottery.
Early biblical ancestors treated Shechem with respect. In Genesis 12:7, “The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspringI will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” This was confirmation of the covenant God had made with Abram (Abraham) earlier in the book.
In Genesis 33, we are told that Jacob “arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent.” (33:18-19) Whilst there, he set up an altar called El Elohe Israel, which means Might is the God of Israel. It is believed this is the same piece of land as the location of Jacob’s Well.
Whilst the city was under Canaanite control, the ruler was “Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land,” which is perhaps how the city got its name: the City of Shechem. This prince is mentioned in detail during chapter 34 of the Book of Genesis. Titled Dinah and the Shechemites, the passage explains that Shechem raped Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, on a visit to the land. Horrified, her brothers set out to confront the prince who claimed to be in love with their sister. Shechem wished to take Dinah as his wife and the brothers told him he could only do this if all the men in the city were circumcised. This was readily agreed upon, however, whilst the men were recovering, Simeon and Levi attacked the city, killing all the males and taking all the animals.
The Israelites settled in Shechem after their Exodus from Egypt. By this time, many people had gone against God’s wishes, committing a variety of sins. In Joshua 24, the leader of the Israelites assembled the people at Shechem where he made them choose between serving the God of Abraham and serving the false Gods of their ancestors. The Israelites agreed to serve God and Joshua erected a memorial stone in honour of this occasion: “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.” (Joshua 24:27) The stone was placed near an oak tree, which is thought to be the “great tree of Moreh” mentioned in Genesis 12. After this event, the Israelites buried the bones of their ancestor Joseph, which they had carried with them from Egypt. (24:32)
The Book of Judges mentions Shechem several times, for example, it was the home of the concubine who bore Gideon’s son Abimelech (8:31). In the following chapter, Abimelech is made king, which is contested by Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon, to no avail. Three years later, the city rose up against the king, however, Abimelech fought back and destroyed Shechem. The city was eventually rebuilt in the 10thcentury BC and became the capital of the new kingdom led by Rehoboam, the son of Solomon.
After this, Shechem appears to lose its importance and is only mentioned in passing in the books of Jeremiah and Hosea:
Shechem is only mentioned a couple of time in the New Testament. Acts 7:16 recalls events of the Old Testament: “Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.” The other mention is contested by some versions of the Bible. In the New Internation Version, we are told: “So [Jesus] came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.” Other translations state “Shechem” but it is not certain whether Sychar was the same place. Nonetheless, if it is to be believed that Jacob’s well was built in Shechem, this is the location of Jesus’ talk with a Samaritan woman in John 4.
Shechem had eventually become a Samaritan settlement whose main religious centre stood on Mount Gerizim. In AD 6, however, Shechem was annexed to the Roman Province of Syria. Much later, the city was destroyed during the First Jewish-Roman War. The ancient city remained undiscovered until 1903 when a German party of archaeologists identified it.
Today, the ancient city of Shechem is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be visited by tourists. Whilst no humans live in the city, it has become home to a wide range of wildlife. Just for fun, here are a few of the residents you may see:
Although there are many more mountains mentioned in the Bible, this will be my last article on the subject. This does not mean that the others are less important but rather there is less information about them or they have become lost over time. Mount Zion, on the other hand, has three different locations.
Traditionally, Mount Zion is a hill in Jerusalem just outside of the Old City. Also known as Har Tsiyyon (Hebrew) and Jabal Sahyoun, it reaches a height of 2,510 feet and belongs to the Judean mountain range. The term “Zion” was first used in the Hebrew Bible as another name for the City of David and later used as an alternative name for Temple Mount.
It is not certain what the term “Zion” means, however, some scholars suggest it is similar to the Hebrew word for castle. This may help to explain why the location of Mount Zion has moved. Rather than being a physical mountain, Mount Zion is a time-honoured name for the focal point of Jerusalem, which shifts to the most appropriate place at the given time. For example, the first Mount Zion was the Jebusite city on the lower section of Jerusalem’s Eastern Hill, also known as the City of David. When the First Temple was erected on the top of the Eastern Hill, which is generally known as Temple Mount, the name Mount Zion migrated there too. The references to Mount Zion in the Book of Psalms are believed to be about this location:
Today’s Mount Zion is located on the Western Hill of Jerusalem, which the Jerusalemites have deemed a worthier location for the lost Palace of King David since the first century AD. Nebuchadnezzar II had destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 586 BC, which eradicated a lot of historical memories. Although the city was rebuilt to the best of everyone’s abilities, the Romans destroyed it again in 70 AD. By now, no one could identify where the original Mount Zion had been (the locations have been discovered by archaeologists in more recent years), however, the historian Josephus wrote that he believed the location to be on the Western Hill since they were higher and longer than the Eastern.
After the Roman period of rule had ended, a synagogue was built at the entrance to what was believed to be David’s Tomb, where he may have brought the Ark of the Covenant before the construction of the First Temple.
There is, however, a fourth unknown location of Mount Zion. In the Bible, particularly in the books of Isaiah and Revelation, Mount Zion represents the Kingdom of God: the heavenly Jerusalem.
Apart from the modern landscape of the present-day mountain and Table Mount (see the article on Mount Moriah), there is little else known about Mount Zion. Since 1967, the mountain/hill has belonged to Israel and in 1964 a winding path leading up to Mount Zion was paved in honour of a visit from Pope Paul VI.
There are a handful of important sites for pilgrims and religious communities on Mount Zion including the Abbey of the Dormition, the aforementioned King David’s Tomb, and the Room of the Last Supper. Despite its name, archaeologists do not believe David’s Tomb to be his actual burial place, although some people treat it in this manner. Likewise, the Room of the Last Supper may not be the actual location of the Passover meal and some archaeologists believe the building may have once been a synagogue. Nonetheless, Christians treat the site as the Cenacle or Upper Room mentioned in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. As well as the Last Supper, it is thought that other events from the New Testament took place here. These include Jesus washing the disciple’s feet (Luke 2), the appearance of Jesus to the disciples after the resurrection (Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20), the gathering of the disciples after the Ascension of Jesus (Acts 1), the election of Matthias as an apostle (Acts 1), and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2).
The first museum opened in memory of the Holocaust can be found on Mount Zion. The Ministry of Religion inaugurated the Chamber of the Holocaust on 30th December 1949. Whilst small and cave-like, the museum contains ten rooms and many passages on which tombstone-like plaques record the 2,000 Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust.
Two Christian cemeteries can be found on Mount Zion, one Catholic and one Protestant. A handful of notable names can be found here, for example, Oskar Schindler, a “Righteous General” who saved the lives of 1200 Jews during the Holocaust. The Protestant cemetery is also the resting place of many soldiers who fought in the First World War and people killed in the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946.
I hope these studies about the important mountains in the Bible have been useful. They should help you to place and visualise many Biblical locations and help you make sense of some of the event in the Old and New Testaments. There are, of course, many more mountains that you could explore, so, just for fun here is a list of some of the other mountains listed in the Bible. If you are interested, perhaps you could look them up and see what you can find out.
Luke 19:1-10: Luke 19:1–10 (NKJV): 1Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 3And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. 5And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. 7But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
8Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”
9And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
It would also be useful for you to read Luke 18:18-25, which is the story of a rich man wanting to know how to achieve eternal life and Jesus' response telling him to sell everything he owned. Other background references are: Ezekiel 34:16, Exodus 22:1, Leviticus 6:5
This story or pericope is so famous that perhaps we miss how radical Jesus' actions were. Also, I am aware that it is probably one of the most well-known stories and so, I aim to offer you a new reflection, which will cast light upon the reading as well as help us in our daily living.
The scene is set in Jericho, which is twelve miles northeast of Jerusalem. It was the scene of the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the place a blind beggar was healed (Matthew 20:29). It is located in the Jordan Valley and is believed to be the oldest inhabited city in the world, founded in 9600 BCE. It has one of the oldest protective walls and is the lowest city in the world at 846 feet below sea level. It is on the main trading route and the area has a flourishing agricultural industry, as well as being the main producer of balsam.
Jericho has had a chequered history; with the first permanent settlement in 9600 BCE, it was continually occupied throughout the Bronze Age but was later destroyed. It flourished once again and by 7th century BCE, Jericho had become a big town, but this was also destroyed following the Babylonian conquest of Judah in around 586 BCE. Whilst the Persians rebuilt the city, it came under the rule of Alexander the Great between 336 and 323 BCE and was subsequently controlled by Syria who strengthened the defensive walls. Mark Antony gave the royal estate at Jericho to Cleopatra in around 25 BCE and, following the Roman oppression, granted Herod absolute rule over Jericho. Herod built a royal palace, hippodrome and theatre, thus establishing Jericho as a major city. The roads were treelined with sycamore-fig trees, which had sprawling, low-level branches offering shade and a food resource.
This is the setting for one of the most famous stories in the Bible. When the Roman empire expanded it began to tax the population to help pay for the very army that was oppressing them together with sending money back to Rome. The Roman authorities knew how much money they wanted to receive from each area but allowed tax collectors to bid for how much they were willing to raise for the taxes and take a margin for their benefit. The taxes were hated by the populous and the collectors were even more hated because they were squeezing as much money as possible for their own gain. Zacchaeus was a Jew and he was seen as a betrayer of his people by being a tax collector and was hated accordingly. He would have been barred from the synagogue and would not have had many friends.
There is a song I learnt at Sunday School that went something like this:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see
And when the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree
And said, 'Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I'm going to your house for tea!
For I'm going to your house for tea!'
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
But a happy man was he
For he had seen the Lord that day
And a happy man was he;
And a very happy man was he
My suggestion is that because he was short he probably, throughout his schooling and young adulthood, would have been teased incessantly. I wonder if becoming a tax collector was his way of seeking revenge on his tormentors. I believe the name Zacchaeus is the Hebrew for pure/innocent. No doubt when he was born, given such a lovely name, he was probably well-loved but because of society's incessant need to label people and to bully, Zacchaeus became the product of all that nastiness. So motivated was he for revenge that he became not just a tax collector but a chief tax collector. He no doubt enjoyed the "respect" of the citizens but he was not happy.
There must have been a time when he realised he was lost; it is only when you realise you lost that you seek to find a different direction. He was fortunate a window of opportunity was to come when Jesus walked through Jericho. Being a "wee little man" he would have had trouble seeing Jesus through the crowds, so was willing to put dignity to one side and climb the sycamore-fig tree, one presumes not wishing to be seen as he did have a position to uphold. There is an element of risk-reward: is the risk of being spotted and looking silly overshadowed by the reward of hearing what Jesus was saying?
Yet, Jesus stops and calls him by name. An unanswered question is how did Jesus know Zacchaeus' name? How did Jesus know he was up a tree? In the only recorded account, Jesus invites himself for a meal and Zacchaeus takes this window of opportunity. He has a personal encounter with Jesus and, as with all personal encounters, the effect is life-transforming. Here we have a man who wanted to change and not just repented in words but repented in action, giving half his possessions to the poor as well as recompensing anyone with whom he had defrauded, paying them four times as much. Jesus offers him salvation, he needed no longer to be separated from God and his status as a Son of Abraham is reinforced. There is a tradition that suggests Zacchaeus went on following Christ and became the first Bishop of Caesarea.
So, what can we learn from this amazing story? Are we lost? Do we need a new direction? Are there habits and routines that we have fallen into and feel so comfortable with that are stopping us from being close to God? What windows of opportunities are there that we can take?
Always consider the risk-reward ratio. People can change and, therefore, by labelling, we sometimes stunt their growth into their potential being. Never tease or bully because you never know the hurt you are causing or the revenge that may follow.
Now it is November, the nights are drawing in and so, remember, words from the Gospel of John Chapter 1, Verse 5, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it.” That, in essence, is our faith. No matter how dark our lives may be, or the nights, the light of Jesus can never be extinguished, as long as we keep it alive.
Firework Night always reminds me of a sermon I once preached involving the question, “what type of firework we would be?” Are we like a Katherine Wheel, whizzing around making a lot of noise but not getting anywhere? Are we a Banger that just makes noise but doesn’t produce anything spectacular? Or perhaps we are a Roman Candle that shoots majestically into the air, producing an array of colour and beauty. Other ideas include Sparklers, easy to use and relatively friendly, but have to be managed with care, and Rockets, leaving a trail behind you wherever you go.
Ask yourself, if you were a firework, what type would you be? Why?
Whatever type of firework you are, remember that God can use you. Remember these words from John 8:12, “Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.”
Finally, we reach everyone’s favourite mountain in the Bible. Named after the olive groves that once grew there, the Mount of Olives or Mount Olivet is one of three peaks on a mountain ridge adjacent to the Old City of Jerusalem. It has been used as a Jewish cemetery for at least 3000 years and contains approximately 150,000 graves; however, this is not what makes the mountain so famous for us. Several events took place here during the life of Jesus, thus making it a major site of pilgrimage and worship for Christians.
The ridge containing the Mount of Olives stretches 2.2 miles across the Kidron Valley, an area that the Bible refers to as the Valley of Josaphat. The Mount of Olives is the middle peak, rising to a height of 2684 feet. The other peaks are named Mount Scopus and the Mount of Corruption, which reach 2710 and 2451 feet respectively. The ridge is formed of sedimentary rocks, such as chalk and flint and is believed to have developed during the Late Cretaceous period – i.e. dinosaurs were still around.
The Mount of Olives is first mentioned in the Bible concerning King David’s flight from his third son, Absalom. After turning the people of Israel against his father, Absalom declared himself king and David decided to flee to safety on the other side of the Jordan River where he could make plans and prepare his troops for battle.
The second reference to the Mount of Olives can be found in the Book of Zechariah with an apocalyptic prophecy that God would stand upon the mountain, splitting it in two.
The New Testament frequently mentions the Mount of Olives, partly because it is on the route from Jerusalem to Bethany, the home of Lazarus. Matthew and Mark (and Luke, although this Gospel includes other references) record the same events almost verbatim in the New International Version of the Bible. Matthew 21:1-3 (Mark 11; Luke 19) records, ‘As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”’ This, as you will surely recognise, is the beginning of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, which is traditionally read on Palm Sunday. “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen” (Luke 19:37)
Matthew 24-25 (Mark 13; Luke 21), records the Mount of Olives as the place where Jesus warned his disciples about the eventual destruction of the Temple and signs of the end times. ‘As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"’ (Matthew 24:3) Jesus talks of wars and uprisings, earthquakes, famines and pestilence and encourages his disciples to remain strong. He tells them to watch out for people claiming to be the Messiah and not to fall for anything they say.
The message about the end times was only given to Jesus’ disciples and not to the public who came to hear him speak in the Temple. John 8:1 records that “Jesus went to the Mount of Olives” at the end of the day where he could be alone, away from all the people asking him questions.
The last event involving the Mount of Olives in the Gospels is written in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and Luke 22. This is where Jesus was arrested having been betrayed by Judas. This, of course, is also written in the Gospel of John, however, John refers to the Kidron Valley rather than the mountain. The beginning of each of these chapters records the last supper, which ends “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26) Luke 22:39 says, “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him,” thus noting that it was not unusual for Jesus to be there. We all know what happened next.
The final time the Mount of Olives is mentioned in the Bible is in the Acts of the Apostles. In chapter one, Jesus is taken up into heaven. Acts 1:12 states, “Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city,” thus confirming that the ascension occurred on the Mount of Olives. Whereas the prophecy in the Book of Zechariah makes the mountain important to the Jewish community, this final event is the biggest reason why the Mount of Olives has become a Christian pilgrimage site.
There is little significant history involving the Mount of Olives between Biblical times and the 20thcentury. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the mountain became under negotiation to allow people access to the holy sites. The Jordanian’s, however, did not allow this to fully happen, only letting non-Israeli Christians visit the mount. It was not until after the Six-Day War in 1967 that Jews had access to the cemetery, albeit in need of restoration. Unfortunately, the gravesite continues to be prone to vandalism.
The cemetery is not the only thing the Mount of Olives has to offer. I have discovered a list of landmarks and just for fun I shall list a few:
Mount Moriah is famously remembered as the location of the almost-sacrifice of Isaac. ‘Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, whom you love--Isaac--and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”’ (Genesis 22:2) God asked Abraham to sacrifice his long-awaited son, however, upon the mountain, God told Abraham to stop. The knowledge that Abraham would have gone through with the command was enough for God to determine the strength of the patriarch’s faith.
Despite being such a famous event, the name “Mount Moriah” is only mentioned once more in the Bible. This occurs in the Second Book of Chronicles. “Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David.” This verse tells us that the mountain has appeared more than once previously, however, it was not necessarily named. Here, Solomon built the first temple of the Lord and, since then, the mountain has been known as Table Mount.
“In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.” Micah 4:1
To modern-day Jews, Table Mount is also called Mount of the House and for Muslims, the Noble Sanctuary. Despite being referred to as a mountain, Table Mount is a hill in the Old City of Jerusalem. It rises approximately 2428 feet above sea level and in 19 BC was artificially widened by Herod the Great, resulting in a flat expanse on the summit that covers an area of 37 acres.
As well as the two mentions of Mount Moriah in the Hebrew Bible, Temple Mount has been the location of many historical and religious events. In Judaism, Temple Mount is the holiest place in the world and it is believed God’s divine presence has manifested there more than anywhere else. According to the Talmud, it was on this hill that God gathered the dust he used to create Adam, the first human. Some rabbis believe it is also the spot from which God created the world.
The Sacrifice of Isaac was the first significant event to take place on Mount Moriah/Temple Mount after the creation. Some also believe it was the location of Jacob’s dream and the place where King David purchased a threshing floor owned by Araunah the Jebusite. David had plans to build a sanctuary on the hill but it was his son Solomon who achieved this in 950 BC.
Solomon’s temple is now referred to as the First Temple; however, there is no archaeological evidence for its existence on Temple Mount. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed this temple in 586 BC and the Second Temple was constructed in 516 BC. The Roman emperor Titus destroyed the new building in 70 AD and, by the 2nd Century, the site was being used as a temple to Jupiter Capitolinus – a group of three deities comprised of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Jewish texts predict a third and final temple will be built on the coming of the Jewish Messiah.
The Temple gradually became less important during the early Christian period, although paintings of the circumcision of Jesus are frequently depicted as taking place there. Of course, none of these painters knew what the Temple looked like and there is no written evidence of the ceremony taking place there in the Gospels.
In Islam, Temple Mount is the third holiest site. The “Noble Sanctuary” is the location of Muhammad’s ascent to heaven. The Quran considered Temple Mount to be the site of the Temple built by the Islamic prophet Sulayman. Many prophets of Islam are believed to have worshipped there, including Jesus.
It is thought that the hill has been inhabited since the 4000 BC and from around 1850 BC it was home to the Canaanites. The Romans built the city of Aelia Capitolina on the hill in 130 AD during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. Initially, Hadrian had intended to gift the city to the Jews, however, after the construction of the Temple to Jupiter Capitolinus, the Jews were horrified by the idolatrous city. Hadrian went on to issue a decree prohibiting circumcision and encouraged Roman rites involving the sacrifice of pigs. Enraged by these practices, the Jews led a revolt, however, they were defeated and forbidden on pain of death to enter the city.
Emperor Constantine I, the first Christian Emperor, demolished the Temple to Jupiter Capitolinus and invited the Jews to rebuild their Temple. Supposedly, while the Jews were clearing the area, an earthquake damaged all their progress and the construction was abandoned. Archaeological evidence suggests another temple or religious building was built during the Byzantine period, however, there is very little knowledge of this.
The Jews finally gained back control of Jerusalem and Temple Mount in 610 AD when the Sassanid Empire, or Empire of Iranians, pushed the Byzantine Empire out. For five years, the Sassanid Jewish Commonwealth let the Jews practice their ceremonies and permitted them to rebuild the Temple. Unfortunately, the Byzantines took the area back in 615 AD and Christians replaced the Jews. Since then, Temple Mount has changed hands many times. It became a Muslim city when the Arabs defeated the second Byzantine Empire in 637. The Crusaders temporarily reintroduced Christianity from 1099 until 1187 and from the Ottoman period until the 19thcentury, non-Muslims were forbidden from setting foot on Temple Mount.
After the Six-Day War in 1967, Jerusalem and Temple Mount have been under Israeli control. Initially, Jews had the right to visit the area unobstructed and free of charge as long as they respected the religious beliefs of the Muslims living there. Since then, rules have changed and Jews are no longer allowed to pray on the mount. New rules dictate that:
From Biblical times to the present day, Mount Moriah/Temple Mount has seen many significant events and wars. It has been home to three different religions and currently contains constructions or the remains of buildings from each. Just for fun, I have researched what you may find there:
I was recently taken to lunch at a rather nice restaurant in Brentwood. The company was excellent, the food, and if wanted wine, looked delicious but the venue was quite a surprise because I had been taken to The Beeches care home.
I must say, I did rather feel that when the time comes, this is the home where I would like to live. Sommer Turner, the client liaison manager, showed me around. The foyer would not have been out of place in a Five Star hotel. There were restaurants and cafes and I even came across a cinema in the facilities. There were a variety of rooms and at least six activities per day to keep residents stimulated and interested. Activities range from Scrabble and quizzes to dancing, gardening and Saturday Night at the Movies. Art groups were available as well as regular staff and resident socials. There were also opportunities to go into Brentwood on weekly organised trips.
As a minister, I am asked if I could recommend any care homes and from this introduction I received, I would certainly suggest considering The Beeches. It is a Signature Home and the website is www.signature-care-homes.co.uk. It is in Herbert Road off London Road in Brentwood, Essex CM14 4NA
Mount Tabor is located in Lower Galilee, Israel, approximately eleven miles from the Sea of Galilee. It is sphere-shaped and reaches a height of 1,886 feet above sea level and 1476 feet above the nearest town, Kfar Tavor. It is known as a monadnock mountain, which means it is an isolated mountain rising from a flat plain.
Mount Tabor is mentioned for the first time in Joshua 19:22: “the boundary also touches Tabor, Shahazumah, and Beth-shemesh, and its boundary ends at the Jordan—sixteen towns with their villages.” Whilst it is only a brief mention, it helps us understand where the mountain was in relation to Biblical lands. Mount Tabor is located in the northwest section of the Jezreel Plain on the border of the Naphtali and Zebulon lands.
The next time Mount Tabor is mentioned is in the Book of Judges:
Whilst Barak and the Israelites marched to Mount Tabor, the Canaanites were struggling through a muddy terrain after a downpour. The chariots were rendered useless and the soldiers were too slow to escape from the Israelites’ attack. All of the Canaanites bar Sisera were slain but the commander soon met his fate in the tent of Yael the Kenite who killed him with a tent peg to the head.
Mount Tabor became the site of another battle in 55 BC when the Hasmonean dynasty rebelled against Alexander Maccabeus of Judaea. Over 10,000 Jews were killed during the battle and Alexander was forced to flee to Syria. Later, in 66 AD, Mount Tabor became one of the 19 fortified sites during the First Jewish-Roman War.
Battles are not the only thing for which Mount Tabor is famous. Although not mentioned by name, Christian writers believe Mount Tabor to be the location of the transfiguration of Jesus.
During the Crusades of the 11th, 12thand 13thcenturies Mount Tabor’s ownership changed hands many times between the Muslims and the Christians. When the Crusaders were in charge, the Benedictine monks erected a fortified abbey, however, this was later destroyed under Muslim rule and replaced with a fortress.
Another “Battle of Mount Tabor” took place in 1799 during Napoleon Bonaparte’s (1769-1821) Syrian expedition. The French army, which only consisted of 3000 men, fought against the 35,000 strong Ottoman Empire and won.
Today, a Bedouin tribe who are famous for being hospitable and friendly to visitors and pilgrims occupies the mountain. Each year, a 12-kilometre race is held around Mount Tabor and the mountain is also one of the most popular locations for hang gliding in the country.
One of the most popular visitor attractions is the Church of Transfiguration, which was built on the peak of Mount Tabor by the Roman Catholic church of the Franciscan order in the 1920s. The architect, Antonio Barluzzi, used the ruins of buildings built during the crusades as the foundations of the church. The structure consists of three naves, two bell towers and two chapels. Whilst the church was built in honour of Jesus, the chapels are dedicated to Moses and Elijah.
Until the reign of the Ottoman Empire, Mount Tabor was completely covered in trees and plants. Most of these were cut down to make room for buildings or to be used by the charcoal industry. Fortunately, the Jewish National Fund reforested the mountain with trees during the 60s and 70s and Mount Tabor once more flourishes with greenery. Over 400 plant species have been recorded on the mountain, including various oak trees, crocuses, lilies, tulips, orchids and irises.
Due to the range of plants, Mount Tabor has become a suitable habit for many animals. Just for fun, here is a list of a few you may find there:
We are happy for you to use any material found here, however, please acknowledge the source: www.gantshillurc.co.uk
Rev'd Martin Wheadon